Ahoy there, matey. It's time to put last year's trillion-gallon nightmare in the rearview mirror and fall back in love with our own Buffalo Bayou, and there's no better way than during the 46th Annual Buffalo Bayou Partnership Regatta presented by Gillman Subaru.
Whether you want to be a land-lubbing fan and cheer on the racers from parkways and overpasses as they paddle their way down 15 miles of Houston's waterways, or you're ready to jump right in and embrace the Bayou City to its fullest via kayak, canoe or surf ski, there's a reason the Regatta has climbed its way up the ranks to become one of the top five one-day races in the nation. And the largest in Texas (booyah).
A few things have changed this year. They're not doing the Styrofoam Cup, an award for those selfless souls who picked up trash along the way instead of trying to come in first. So let's stop tossing our garbage into the Bayou, which just feeds into the Gulf of Mexico anyway.
Also, and those who've raced the Regatta in the past will notice, the landscape has changed just a bit after last year's flooding, with erosion obvious in some areas and depths affected by the accumulation of silt. The bayou looks great now, and Buffalo Bayou Partnership reports that 40,000 cubic yards of silt have been removed to help revitalize our city's greatest natural resource.
"[There's a] really interesting perspective that you see from Houston from that water level, being in the boat. It’s really different. It’s hard to imagine you’re in the fourth largest city when you’re paddling upstream," says Trudi Smith, the Partnership's director of public relations and events. To see what she's talking about, check out this kayak cam video of the 2010 Regatta taken by Chris Denny with Lead Optimize.
Smith also pointed us to Bob Spain's (now historic) testimonial of his first ever year competing in the race, back in 1992 when it was still called The Reeking Regatta. Spain is now a veteran racer and later went on to serve as Race Director but this newbie's experience offers a unique first-person perspective.
Don't overload your craft with a gigantic ice chest. "So engrossed had we become in our endeavor and so busy in our toil that more than three fourths of our twenty-four cold drinks survived through we fought the weighty ice chest through it all," wrote Spain.
Nature will out, and expect more than a few obstructions. "Suddenly our first hazard barred the way. A tree had fallen across the bayou," wrote Spain. "Over the side I went, and down - deep down! I never dreamed the water would be so deep."
It's an arduous race for those who haven't been training. "Resisting exhaustion I dreamed of the Shepherd Street bridge - then we would almost be there [to the finish line]," wrote Spain. "Exhausted, we plied the last agonizing leg like drugged zombies."
Spain and his brother, Jerry, had been in the water for more than four hours. Winners can complete the course in less than two hours.
Also new this year is an added division. "Non-competitive" is for those who want to do the race just for fun; racers can use any legal style of boat and they'll enter the waters five minutes after the last competitive division. They're handing out trophies for the top three paddlers in Teams, Recreational Canoe, Recreational Kayak and Unlimited Divisions.
Presenting sponsor Gillman Subaru certainly walks the walk — or floats the float. This is their fifth year presenting and Smith tells us they have almost ten teams in the race. "They participate every year," says Smith. "We’re so happy to have them be a part of this event and be able to create an awareness of how wonderful this waterway is."
Smith also tells us that the Partnership has moved the finish line to Allen's Landing. "We’ve been using Sesquicentennial Park. You’re able to kind of land in quote 'Houston’s Plymouth Rock.' We symbolize this area as the spot where Houston was founded.
"We do feel that there is more space for boaters and spectators and, yes, more room to maneuver, to move around. It’s also the headquarters for our office building, the Sunset Coffee Building," says Smith. (Read more about how architects incorporated resilience to restore the historic building.)
Finish line festivities include live music by Curtis Poullard and the Creole Zydeco Band. "They’re awesome. We encourage dancing for sure," says Smith. "Saint Arnold will be there and they will be providing brew for the participants; that’s one of the benefits. They’ll be waiting to hand out some refreshing beverages for those who are participating and we’ll have some beer and drinks for sale as well for spectators.
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Also, for those who get bitten by the racing bug, vendors will be showcasing some of the latest canoe and kayak gear.
The Regatta has only had to cancel once over the past ten years (2012 didn't make), but even if they have to call off the race due to severe water or weather conditions, entry fees will still support the Buffalo Bayou Partnership and its mission to transform and revitalize Buffalo Bayou.
"We’re crossing our fingers that the weather will be good," says Smith.
The 46th Annual Buffalo Bayou Partnership Regatta runs from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 10, kicking off at 7700 San Felipe (west of Voss) and finishing at Allen's Landing (1001 Commerce at Main), 713-752-0314, extension 101, buffalobayou.org, $30 to $60 (free to watch).